C.J.: TSA agent's comments stun former producer for Oprah

  • Article by: C.J. , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 18, 2012 - 7:40 PM

In a nutshell, author Janet Lee found remarks last week by a Chicago-based TSA agent ethnically offensive.

Lee, a former Oprah producer, told me about the unfortunate encounter during an appearance at Minneapolis' Corazon on Lake Street, where she was promoting her book, "Living in a Nutshell."

Lee was at O'Hare, Terminal 2, last Wednesday, engaging in the part of the airport travel drill that involves putting one's luggage on the conveyor belt for X-raying, when a TSA agent made a failed attempt at humor.

"The first thing he said to me was, Drop it like it's Chinese laundry," according to Lee, who is Korean. "I didn't know what he was saying, and he got mad at me for not laughing and then he said, Oh, yeah, and add starch."

Still stunned by the remarks a day later, Lee said, "I was silent. That's when he said add starch. The silence [should have communicated the word] AWKWARD, and he upped it to being worse. I thought that was offensive. That's not a 'Living in a Nutshell' philosophy," laughed Lee. "We have no bias except for a bias on a fabric."

Lee's producer, Joe on the Go blogger Joseph Lecz, a former Oprah production management staffer, was traveling with her.

"I was in utter shock," said Lecz, who thought the starch remark "really pushed the line. Instead of causing a scene, we just walked away. This type of intolerance needs to stop. We are born equal. I'm rarely speechless, and I was appalled to the point where I didn't even know what to say."

One has to be careful saying anything to a TSA agent, who has the power to interrupt your flight plans. But it sounds as if there's at least one TSA agent who could use some diversity/sensitivity training.

On Wednesday, a TSA official told me that the O'Hare videotapes are being reviewed from around the time Lee and Lecz would have gone through airport security. I was also given this statement: "TSA does not tolerate inappropriate comments from our officers. We are reviewing these allegations and will take action as circumstances warrant. All Transportation Security officers receive extensive training on interacting with passengers in a professional, courteous and sensitive manner."

On the town

Minnesotan Leslie Grisanti, who recently left a producer job with Oprah's OWN, took Lee and Lecz to Eat Street Social after the Corazon book signing.

Grisanti is taking some time off this summer, sitting in a tube on lakes near the homes of Minnesota friends, before deciding her next career move.

Dominique Dawes flips

Former Olympian Dominique Dawes can still make a splashy gymnastic entrance.

Dawes was in the metro making appearances for the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities and Hormel Natural Choice products' "Raising Little Champions" campaign. During a Mall of America appearance for the B&G Clubs, Dawes talked about the sacrifices she made to accomplish her goals as a world-class athlete, and she signed autographs.

Before going to the MOA, I caught up with Dawes at Fox 9, where the Olympian surprised me with a cartwheel right after exiting her limo. See the video at startribune.com/video. Note the degree of difficulty as a result of wet pavement.

"I won't be teaching you that," Dawes said after noticing me wearing a brace related to one of my sundry sports injuries.

"I've heard way too much about you," she said. "I was told that you know everyone, right? I am a huge Prince fan because I was in his music video in 1996, and I feel like you have to connect me to him."

I knew @dominiquedawes was a Symbolina fan, because Tuesday on Twitter.com she wrote: "I'm heading to my favorite singer Prince's hometown. Time for one of my favorite things to do ... people watch at the airport. So intriguing ... "

Alas, I had to break the news to Dawes that as the inspiration for the Prince song "Billy Jack Bitch," I was probably not her best conduit.

"Oh, goodness!" Dawes said.

Dawes loves Prince as "just a great artist. I was in 'Betcha By Golly Wow,' and when I met him he wanted me to free-style dance and gymnasts can't dance, so it was quite comical."

I didn't realize that Prince had done a cover of the song that I've only associated with the Stylistics, although Wikipedia said the Thom Bell-Linda Creed-written song was originally recorded by Connie Stevens under the title "Keep Growing Strong." Wow!

The Prince version was on the "Emancipation" album, which features the cover art of him with the word "Slave" scrawled on his face. It was released during the time when he assumed the unpronounceable glyph for a name that in turn inspired me to nickname him Symbolina.

It all comes full circle, doesn't it? My interview with Dawes will do the same in a Sunday Q&A video that'll be kicked out during the 2012 Olympics.

C.J. is at 612.332.TIPS or cj@startribune.com. E-mailers, please state a subject -- "Hello" doesn't count. More of her attitude can be seen on Fox 9 Thursday mornings.

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